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Health & Exercise Forum

Walking a marathon to survive and thrive: Part 1 of 2

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May 8, 2017

Karen Arscott, D.O.

Walking a Marathon – to Survive and Thrive! Part 1 of 2

Author: Karen Arscott, DO

 Dr. Arscott is an Associate Professor of Medicine at GCSOM. She graduated from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine with D.O and is board certified in Neuromuscular Medicine and I am Chair of the Northeast Central Pennsylvania Interprofessional Education Coalition. I am Co-Chair of PA Lung a non-profit bringing awareness and support to those touched by lung cancer – this is in conjunction with Lung Cancer Alliance of which I am on the Medical and Professional Board. My walking buddies are my sister and my husband.  I reside in Waverly with my husband James Arscott, D.O. and my granddaughter Sophia.

This column is a monthly feature of “Health & Exercise Forum” in association with the students and faculty of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

 The Marathon – The Race of Your Life! Part 1

With the Scranton Half and Boston Marathon behind us, many local runners are getting pumped up to get outside and run. In fact, many will be getting ready to begin their training for the Steamtown Marathon in October. Well, before you begin…this column will present a new perspective on marathon participation…walking a marathon.

This informative and inspirational story is about a lung cancer survivor who ran the race of her life and went on to finish the walk of her life to live well and walk a marathon!

As a long time recreational runner, for many years I dreamed about attaining “the holy grail” … crossing the finish line of a marathon! The only problem was that I was unable to run any more. While this fact seems like a pretty big problem when talking about completing a marathon, I am eager to share why this is not impossible. Nine years ago, I heard about “Walker Friendly” marathons and I was intrigued. Before we knew what we were getting into, my husband and I registered for the “Walker Friendly” Philadelphia Marathon! Upon further research, we discovered that we had to find the time to train – yes, you do need to train to walk a marathon. One might wonder why my husband and I decide to register for the “walk friendly” Philadelphia Marathon without knowing the details. Well, my walking marathon was the reward for my successful survival marathon…

In January 2006 I was diagnosed with lung cancer. At age 46 and without any known risk factors (non-smoker), to say we were shocked is an understatement. My husband and I are both physicians and we are up to date on all required medical education. However, we had no idea that lung cancer in never smoker women was on the rise and actually made up almost 20% of all lung cancer patients. Our education about lung cancer was really only beginning as I had much ahead of me, including surgery, which was thought to be a cure. Lung cancer quickly became a personal scare and now hopefully a distant memory. Despite my positive attitude, this disease presented ongoing challenges. Since I always considered myself athletic (some would say a jock), I decided to take control of my life through physical activity. I trained to complete a 5K race seven months after surgical removal of the upper part of the upper lobe of my right lung. This went well and we went on with our lives. However, sixteen months after my initial diagnosis, my lung cancer returned as metastasis in lymph nodes in my mediastinum (the middle of my chest). Suddenly, at 48 years old and feeling healthy, I was statistically looking at a 9% chance of living 5 years.

Once the initial shock had passed, I told my doctor to hit me with everything possible. My doctor laughed and said, “We will hit you with everything including the kitchen sink!” My marathon to live had just begun! First, was a port-a-cath placement which is a surgically inserted tube for vein access for the delivery of chemotherapy.  Next, chemotherapy treatments began. The chemotherapy regimen I was given included carboplatin and docetaxel – this predated the tumor maker therapy now available. Every 3 weeks I received these medicines for four rounds. While receiving the chemotherapy, I continued exercising at spinning class. It was imperative that I maintain my cardiovascular fitness level as a major chest surgery was going to be next.  Nine years ago there wasn’t any evidence concerning exercise and chemotherapy and so I decided to do what I felt would be best for me - which included exercise (it is now proven to be helpful, especially for lung cancer, to exercise while being treated). My only self-imposed rule was no exercise on the day I received my chemotherapy. The spinning class was an excellent choice for me as I knew everyone in the class and they were a cheer squad for me and my family – my family exercised with me throughout. I would close my eyes and pretend I was racing cancer and I always won!

My survival marathon continued. After the twelve weeks of chemotherapy, I had surgery to remove the entire right upper lobe of my lung along with the lymph nodes in the right side and middle of my chest. A little less than three weeks following my surgery, I started radiation five days per week and weekly cisplatin (another chemotherapy drug) for 7-8 weeks. Once I finished chemo in December 2007, it took almost 3 months for my blood counts to normalize and I started to feel like myself again.

In the spring of 2008, I was back at the gym in spinning class regularly and the seed of walking a marathon was planted by two women in the class. The Philadelphia marathon takes place in November which is Lung Cancer Awareness month – seemed like a perfect fit…I had finished the survival marathon for life and now I wanted to complete the walking marathon to live!

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune. Next Week: The Walking Marathon – Part 2 will discuss training to complete a “walk-friendly” marathon.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth College of Medicine.